Monday, January 3, 2011

Avant Poetry & Class

From Dark Sky Magazine, The Field Goal Dialectic
by Daniel E. Pritchard


  1. Anytime glad to see an article confronting classism and poetry (or plain old classism, shall we say?), regardless of whether I largely agree or disagree with the arguments. As a working class kid organizing folks at UMASS decades later, this is interesting. I encountered a lot of that apathy (despite overall gains such as unionization, domestic partnership benefits etc). And did understand it to be driven by alienation, fear, the desire to kick the ball, as put in the article. But then I also organized at Harvard, Columbia, many of the Ivies--adjuncts, grad assistants, research assistants (and staff etc too). Students, staff, and faculty there had the same general degree of apathy--frustrating but telling in some respects, at least telling in terms of similarities between these two analytical systems despite the finer demographics of the students and workers. From the 50s onward labor's density flew apart (Right to Work legislation) and with it came a serious decline in action-based class vocabularies, not to mention a disappearance of the middle class (or its bubble-based myth, depending one one's analysis here). So tho I don't question EM's critical take--the sort of Vulgar Leninist approach of organizing the peasantry is implied here and should be critiqued as itself classist--I think it's been quite a long time now since classes visibly collapsed into the 5 percent that make up the ruling and managerial class and the 95 percent that make up the rest of us. This in no way negates EM's point. Income disparities count, but they are not indicative of power viz. mobility within the work place, or degree of fear etc that stems from this very clear dichotomy--the mobility, so to speak, to do X or Y (to get benefits, to actually have one's worth heard, etc). Those are managerial decisions, ultimately, so goes the apathetic line, and there's not much we can do about it. So, EM, LANGUAGE eds, workers at state schools and at the Ivies, are largely in the same boat. A sinking boat unless some bottom-up action takes place, i.e., solidarity in organizing. Thanks for the link.

  2. I too was happy simply to have the issue discussed. To his credit, Pritchard made it clear that this is not a simple problem, and while he couldn't do it justice in such a short short space, he left the questions open and resisted superficial rhetorical closure.

    Philly poetry is particularly interesting to think about here--in no small part because of CA Conrad's central importance--his border shattering presence--both in his person and his poetry, but there are still strong class/race lines disguised in the trappings of genre and aesthetic distinctions (spoken word, performance, rap... ). The new Apiary Corporation has been doing a remarkable job of forging new territory here, with Tamera Oakman leading the way, but this has come about by a kind of purposeful and creative blindness--good in how it has spread a big tent, but leaves the genitive roots of these divisions unaddressed... It's there in the poetry, but still begs for solid economic and political analysis.

    Thanks for your thoughts on this.

  3. Totally agreed, Jacob. The article is interesting and makes good points without being reductive--agreed. And: Conrad, Frank, you yourself--there are several in Philly who have been shattering (purposefully too) and critiquing the classism of/in aesthetic production, poetry, and breaking barriers as artists re class more generally, yes! This is a poetry scene that desires to make class part of, even central in some ways to, the discussion and the poetical output. Is why I am so drawn to much of Philly poetry. Is what formed the initial bases of friendships probably too-- I'm interested in The Apiary and Oakman too, nice call there. I've long desired to make an anthology of work by poets on class (or if not a book project, maybe a more action-oriented one)--the economic and political analysis you're talking about. I've been too lazy, for one. But agreed, many good discussions just now occurring--Philly, in the Bay, with WIG, among several others. So maybe this is the start(s) needed... Thanks again for the link & note. Solidaridad, david